By James Pierpoint
The Shinguardian blog is an ongoing chronicle of all things American soccer, including MLS coverage, U.S National team results, and youth team news.
Most recently, the chatter from the American soccer blogosphere has been concerning the United States U-20 National team and their success in qualifying for the World Cup for their age group, which will be hosted in New Zealand this summer. After beating El Salvador 2-0 this past weekend, the team that has been described by the Shinguardian conservatively as, “a deep group, particularly in the midfield,” qualified for their 9th World Cup out of the last 10 cycles.
Albeit impressive, this group of young talent had no easy time making it through their group. After losing their first game against Panama and drawing the second away to Guatemala, the youngsters had to win the next four games consecutively in order to make it through. Fortunately, they did, and this team has recently been dominating games against CONCACAF opponents, especially in the midfield, which hasn’t always been a staple of the United States soccer style.
The game in the U.S has grown through strikers. Most recently, stars like Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, and Jozy Altidore have been the centerpieces of American teams. Now, however, as we enter the second cycle under Klinsmann, it seems like the system has shifted towards a more possession oriented, creative-minded style, building from players like Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, as well as new faces like Julian Greene.
This transformation, although not quite mature enough to have had success in this past World Cup, seems to mirror itself onto the U-20 team, which should make fans more optimistic about what lies ahead for U.S soccer. But perhaps what fans are more excited about is the arrival of two new players to the U-20’s via the national team selection process. As is typical of the Klinsmann era thus far, Gedion Zelalem, a German-American midfielder playing with Arsenal at the moment, is set to commit his future to the U.S National team. Zelalem, along with Rubio Rubin who is another outstanding prospect, could quite possibly add a whole other dimension to an already solid outfit, making this year’s U-20 World Cup look very promising.
Gedion Zelalem via businessinsider.com
Although this news about the U-20 team is intriguing, the main portions of the Shinguardian are dedicated primarily to MLS and the USMNT.
Most recently, there have been three featured pieces about individual players on the Men’s National team that are all very interesting. The most recent, of course, covered Landon Donovan’s retirement from professional soccer.
Donovan is, was, and will be for a very long time, the best United States soccer player to ever play the game. All-time leader in goals, assists, and caps, and yet, his storied career ended in a rather awkward way. Starting with his sabbatical a few years ago followed by an unjust snub from the World Cup squad and then a send off game against Ecuador that only perpetuated the awkwardness. It was only fitting that he won the MLS cup, doing justice to his amazing career. The Shinguardian is a huge fan of Landon, and thus is consistently skeptical of Klinsmann and his leadership, although ultimately they are just fans of U.S soccer and are trying to enjoy the post-World Cup buzz, even after losing so many friendlies to close out 2014.
The second special piece is on Geoff Cameron. One of only a few Americans currently playing well in the Premier league, Cameron has featured as mostly a right back for the U.S and as a center-defensive midfielder for his club team Stoke City. However, the Shinguardian asserts that he should not be overlooked as a center back for the U.S due to his aerial ability in comparison with other fullbacks in the Premier League. It is also true that he had an excellent showing against Mexico in the most recent dos-a-cero, although nobody can really ever forget a few key mistakes made by Cameron during his up-and-down career. It is true that after losing the Bocanegra-Onyewu combination in the back, Klinsmann faces the challenge of finding central defenders that can stand up against international opponents with classy strikers. Besler and Gonzalez, although they outperformed in the World Cup, may not be the best pairing, and players like John Brooks and Geoff Cameron may be good-looking prospects to try out this cycle. This of course brings up the question of Jermaine Jones’s role in the next World Cup, which seems at the moment to be at center back, but there’s always the question of maintaining fitness, some say an impossible feat, as Jones would be 35 for the next World Cup in Russia.
The other feature was on Tim Howard, and more generally, the strength of United States goalkeepers in comparison with the rest of the world. After the World Cup, goalies like Tim Howard, Keylor Navas, and Claudio Bravo made headlines, while legends like Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon, and Joe Hart fell out of the competition early. This shift in power at the goalkeeping position, with the exception of Manuel Neuer (who plays on his own level), has interesting implications at the club level: Tim Howard takes sabbatical to maintain his place at Everton, Keylor Navas takes the job at Madrid from Iker, Bravo fights for his place at Barcelona, and other goalies like Ospina (Arsenal) and Ochoa (Málaga) are getting increased attention. Although the blog doesn’t make any statements about the strength of American goalkeeping, I’d say with Howard, Guzan, Rimando, and even Bill Hamid, the American goal has some of the best in the world. Hopefully Howard decides to come back to the U.S and takes over leadership for the next World Cup, which could very well be his last.